Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Enough Talk. It’s Ohio State vs. Michigan For It All

Ohio State vs. Michigan. It's why players come to these schools and the Buckeyes have the chance to get back on top after recent implosions.

Potential NCAA investigations notwithstanding, on Saturday, it will have been 1,456 days since Ohio State vs. Michigan ended with the Buckeyes on top. Despite two decades of dominance in The Game, Ohio State is coming off of its first two-game losing streak to Michigan since 1999-2000. If they drop this one, it’ll be the first three-game losing streak since the 1995-1997 games.

Losing to anyone hurts. Losing to the most hated rival in the history of the program in back-to-back years is the worst. Year after year, the teams talk and Ryan Day‘s squad repeatedly mentioned how this game is paramount to its success. In 2021, they were smacked around. Last year, after all of the talk, they were smacked around again.

This year, it feels different. The vibe surrounding both programs and The Game is incredibly tense. This year’s edition has the potential to be the most volatile in recent memory with all of the storylines floating around and just the overall feeling that Ohio State is tired of being called soft.

Now’s the time to back up those words. It’s time for Ohio State to regain its place atop the hill it so vehemently believes.

The Keys for Ohio State vs. Michigan

A Suffocating Defense

All year, it has felt like Jim Knowles‘ squad has been dominant in every facet…but there was always something. Heading into the Michigan game last year, Ohio State’s defense was good but not great. They were allowing 16.9 points and 283.4 yards per game. However, this year feels different.

Last year, Ohio State dominated bad teams and let the good teams move the ball and score. This year, there has been very little variation between what they did against Indiana as they did against Penn State and Notre Dame.

The key for Ohio State vs. Michigan on defense is to make the Wolverines one-dimensional. The Wolverines’ offense is run-first. No matter the reasoning anyone wants to give to Michigan’s offense, the rush attack is the key. Between Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, Michigan’s top two backs, Michigan gains 4.4 yards per carry.

While that does not seem intimidating, harken back to last year when Ohio State held Michigan to 92 yards on 30 carries before the Wolverines broke it open with the first of their two massive touchdown runs. That was without Corum. Michigan can break it open at any point and Ohio State would do well to sell out to stop the run and force J.J. McCarthy to beat them over the top.

Thus far, McCarthy has been efficient (aside from his three interceptions against Bowling Green). Over the last two weeks, McCarthy has not looked good. In the biggest game of the year to this point, Michigan had McCarthy throw the ball just eight times where he managed seven completions and just 60 yards. Last week against Maryland, McCarthy managed 141 yards and an interception off of 12/23 passing. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown since the alleged low-level staffer and Michigan Man™ Connor Stalions resigned/was fired.

Do with that what you will.

Feed 32

In each of the last 21 meetings, the team with the leading rusher wins the Ohio State vs. Michigan game. Of course, this could be “correlation vs. causation” considering the winning teams have held considerable leads and they took the air out of the ball (not in the Tom Brady way, though).

In just eight games, TreVeyon Henderson has run for 794 yards and 10 touchdowns. Additionally, he’s added 210 yards off of 16 receptions. That’s nearly 7.5 yards per touch on the year. Compare that with Corum’s 5.0 and Edwards’s 4.6 yards per touch. Considering Henderson is running behind a considerably weaker offensive line and an offense that is not predicated on his success, that’s not too bad.

To this point, Michigan has the ninth-best rush defense with just 90 yards allowed per game. It will not be easy for Henderson and the Buckeyes to get it going. However, five teams have amassed more than 100 yards on the ground, two of which were in the last three weeks.

Henderson is one of the best playmakers in the Buckeye offense and they would do well to give him plenty of opportunities. Michigan’s defense is stout against the run but Henderson is best when the line breaks down and he has to do his own thing.

Don’t Overthink It

A popular sentiment within the Ohio State fandom is that Day gets too cute on offense. In the biggest game of the year, the Ohio State offense needs to do what they know works and not try to unnecessarily outsmart the Michigan defensive coordinator.

While Kyle McCord may not be at the same level as the last three first-round quarterbacks, he’s still good at throwing the football. And, even if he’s not, he still has the top arsenal of weapons that Michigan has faced to his point.

Marvin Harrison, Jr. is a matchup nightmare for even the best secondaries out there. Michigan, as it turns out, has an elite secondary. At only 144.4 yards per game allowed through the air, Michigan is second in the nation behind Ohio State. The Wolverines will look to limit Harrison and even do everything they can to make him a non-factor. It’s a good thing Ohio State has a first-round talent as a second receiver in Emeka Egbuka.

Nothing is plain and simple in college football but “get the ball to your future NFL Draft picks” is about as close as it gets. Don’t overthink it. If Ohio State finds any crack that it can exploit, it has to pick at it and pick at it. The rationale for McCarthy only throwing eight times against Penn State and the team running the ball 32 straight times was that they did not need to throw it.

If Ohio State is presented with that opportunity, they have to do anything possible to secure the victory in Ann Arbor.

Reclaim the Throne

For most Ohio State fans under the age of 40, Ohio State vs. Michigan has been one-sided. Ever since Jim Tressel‘s famous speech, Ohio State has a 17-4 record against That Team Up North (16-4, officially). Naturally, these last two years have been jarring. Sure, those other two losses stung but those were two of the worst Ohio State teams since the turn of the century. In 2021 and 2022, Ohio State had National Championship aspirations. Michigan didn’t fully derail Ohio State last year, of course, but it likely did cost C.J. Stroud a Heisman.

All of the chatter of allegations here and there matters not. It’s not the first time either program has had its outside distractions.

No Jim Harbaugh on the Michigan sidelines. No margin for error for Ohio State.

11-0 vs. 11-0. Ohio State vs. Michigan. A trip to the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff is on the line. This is why players come to these respective schools.

Photo Credit: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

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